The Space and Terrestrial Robotic Exploration (SpaceTREx) Laboratory at University of Arizona's Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Department develop systems engineering design and control solutions for space, planetary and asteroid exploration, using small spacecraft, robots and sensor network devices. Research is focused on developing enabling technologies for extreme environment exploration, interplanetary CubeSat explorers and on-orbit servicing spanning spacecraft constellations, propulsion, power and communications.
The laboratory and key personnel have a diverse range of expertise including CubeSat design, development, launch expertise, smart system design and control using bio-inspired and neural network control paradigms, space weather and extreme-environment robotics. The laboratory is rapidly expanding and diversifying its research portfolio by exploiting new developments in terrestrial technology, particularly nanotechnology and applying it to space exploration, while taking technology developed for space and applying it towards important challenges facing humanity in the fields of climate change, security, water and energy.
Interdisciplinary Expertise in Engineering, Science and Exploration
Professor Jekan Thanga has 20 years of experience working in the aerospace research sector and is a senior member of the AIAA. He has been an expert reviewer for government agencies, including NASA and NSF, and has been a Subject Matter Expert on space matters for DoD organizations. He has developed several student-centric research and design programs that incorporate systems engineering and has graduated over 60 students who have gone onto work in leading positions throughout the aerospace, defense, and IT sectors. He obtained his bachelor's in engineering science (Aerospace Major) from the University of Toronto. He worked on Canadarm, Canadarm 2, and the DARPA Orbital Express missions at MDA Space Missions. Jekan obtained his Ph.D. in space robotics at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) and did a postdoc at MIT's Field and Space Robotics Laboratory (FSRL). Jekan is broadly interested in the exploration of space and extreme environments, using networks of robots, interplanetary CubeSats, and smart sensors. His research focuses on developing enabling technologies that span system design, propulsion, networking, and power to permit smart, fully autonomous operation for long durations. This is achieved through Multi-Disciplinary Optimization (MDO) using a combination of conventional, adaptive, and bio-inspired neuro-evolutionary methods resulting in high performance, unconventional design, and control solutions that would otherwise not be envisioned by a human designer. His research covers the investigation of fundamental theoretical concepts with simulation using computational tools, culminating with field trials and deployment. He and his team of students and postdocs have co-authored over 120 peer-reviewed publications and won several recent awards including the Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award in 2016, co-author of Student Best Paper Award 2nd Place at AAS GNC in 2017, MBR Mars Settlement Challenge Winner in 2018, co-author of Student Best Paper Award 3rd Place at AAS GNC in 2018, co-author of Best Paper Presentation Award at AMOS in 2019 and a mentor of a Top 10 Finalist Team at NASA BIG Competition 2020 consisting of the Colorado School of Mines and Univ. of Arizona students.
Professor Asphaug studies planet and satellite formation, including giant impacts such as that which formed the Moon. The ensuing diversity of planets is the subject of his book When the Earth Had Two Moons (HarperCollins, 2019). He also studies "small bodies" (asteroids, comets and satellites) that are leftovers of accretion, working to understand their formation and evolution, low-gravity geology, and activity and surface patterns. He participates in laboratory research looking into the strength properties of meteorites, and theoretical research into the origin of chondrules. Over the years, thanks to motivated students, he has also explored crater lakes and patterned ground on Mars, the delivery of volatiles to the lunar surface, and bombardment of Saturn's rings. He was on the Galileo and LCROSS missions, and is on the science teams of upcoming missions to asteroids Psyche and Didymos, and to the Martian moons. He leads the Comet Radar Explorer (CORE) mission concept, proposed twice to NASA Discovery, to obtain a high definition medical-like scan of a comet nucleus interior, and is helping to develop an instrument that would make seismic imaging of small body interiors a remote-sensing investigation. In SpaceTREx he is helping to develop innovative low cost approaches to exploration, and the AOSAT cubesat centrifuge that will mimic the low but non-zero gravity of asteroids.
Patents and Inventions
Masters Reports/Theses and PhD Theses
Giuseppe Cocconi and Philip Morrison
Top-notch instruments and devices for the design, development, integration and testing for extreme environments.
SpaceTREx develops enabling technologies for Interplanetary CubeSats and sensor probes spanning power, propulsion, communications and constellations.
We develop next generation mobility technologies for accessing caves, canyons and cliffs. Research has also started into on-orbit manipulation and satellite servicing technology.
We apply space technology towards important challenges facing humanity in the fields of climate change, security, water and energy.
2015 and earlier
Selected Academic Publications
Scholarly Reports Prepared in Academia
Scholarly Reports Prepared for Industry/Government
2015 and Earlier